Machine Gun Control

MikeB makes a point I’m honestly surprised anti-gun people don’t make more often, namely that we constantly make the point that machine gun crime is extraordinarily rare, yet argue that gun control doesn’t work.  Shouldn’t the controls on machine guns act as an example gun controls do work?  I’m not all that convinced, but I will admit that there’s a lot of room for bias here, and little data to go on.  But I will postulate, nonetheless.

I’m not that convinced that, outside of a few high profile criminals and high profile crimes, that machine gun crime was all that normal, even at the height of prohibition era.  One could argue that since mortars aren’t common in crime, that obviously mortar control must be effective, but mortar control did not effectively exist in this country before the Gun Control Act if 1968, yet it’s obvious mortar crimes have been uncommon to nonexistent. The reason you don’t see much crime involving mortars or machine guns is because neither is that remarkably useful for furtherance of criminal activity.  Machine guns aren’t easily concealed, and the ones easily concealed aren’t easily controlled.  All machine guns, except for crew served weapons, exhaust ammunition very quickly. It’s for that reason I don’t think machine gun crime has ever been all that common among criminals, who carry their weapons mostly for self-protection against other criminals.

During the 1920s and 1930s, machine guns made headlines, because along with the automobile, were relatively new technology that law enforcment and the public didn’t have much experience with, and that notorious criminals were quick to exploit.  But if we look, notorious machine gun crime hasn’t exactly been absent from the headlines since.  During the 1980s, Miami was known as the “machine gun mecca” even though less than 1% of crimes were actually committed with machine guns.  I’m sure we all remember drive by shooting hysteria, and who can forget the North Hollywood shootout.  I think it’s pretty clear that the media focuses on dramatic and rare crime largely because it attracts eyeballs to their story, and I don’t see any reason to assume that was any less true in the early part of the 20th century than it is today.

To speculate even further, I would argue that the presence of higher quality pistols that are more practical alternatives to machine guns actually reduce the use of fully automatic weapons in crime a great deal.  The reason being that if you’re going to make makeshift firearms, the open bolt submachine gun is actually among the simplest firearms to manufacture.  See stories form the UK about submachine guns being made out of bicycle pumps.  Or stories about how easy it is to obtain automatic weapons in the UK.  It’s probably not all that much harder here, but if all you have available is either expensive or crude, you’re probably going to have more full autos coming into the mix being used by common criminals.

That’s not to say the public is going to soon be in any mood to run the experiment of lesser restrictions on fully automatic weapons, to prove my theories correct, even though I suspect you wouldn’t see much of an uptick in violent crime if allowed to proceed.  But you could be practically guaranteed the few crimes that were committed would make headlines, just as they did in the 20s and 30s when the issue first appered.  Would that end the experiment?  Hard to say.

10 thoughts on “Machine Gun Control”

  1. I don’t think the fact that legal machine guns aren’t used in crime, therefore gun control works. I think the fact that illegal machine guns are used in crime demonstrates that gun control doesn’t work.

    There are a hell of a lot of illegal machineguns out there. And the fact that some of the heaviest controls in the nation are leveled against them doesn’t change that one bit.

  2. Thanks Sebastian for the link and for your post.

    To your first commenter I would say that the GunCite article I linked to in my post has Kleck himself reporting very few incidents of illegal machine gun crime. Few enough to argue that the laws work.

    The possibility that there were as few machine gun shootings before the 1934 law as after, to me seems like a bit of a stretch. Whether the difference was enough to justify all the registration and licensing laws, and whether they are responsible for the improvement, I admit would be hard to prove.

    I like your other point too, who needs machine guns when you’ve got the more easily hidden semi-automatic pistols that are easily available. Henigan made a good argument that the efficacy of fully auto machine guns make them more useful to gangsters, but I’m not totally convinced about that.

    One other thing I readily admit is, as many have pointed out, I shun genuine research and much prefer to get my information from sources like this.

  3. Even if it does “work,” this branch of policy would still be of an increasingly limited return on investment.

    If you’re a low level street thug, are you going to want to carry around a cheap pistol which, at worse (in a Project Exile State), will tack on five years to your sentence if caught with it? Or do you want to risk the extra ten plus for an auto? Either way, you’re probably only going to fire it a few times before tossing it in a river.

    I would imagine the situation in the UK is just an unintended consequence of treating them all the same. If you’re going to see the same prison sentence for anything, why not go all out and get a full auto?

    Likewise, once semi-automatics/revolvers/whatever are hit with the same markup to pay for smuggling and such, the price advantage of, say, a Lorcin over a MAC-10 starts to disappear.

    At any rate, of the three or four times I’ve been shot at, once was with something with a fun switch. We didn’t stick around to ask questions, but it’s probably safe to assume these guys didn’t have the pretty little blue stamp. Obviously anecdotal evidence isn’t the same as statistics, but one out of four (out of what should be one in a million) isn’t exactly evidence of something working either.

    And it wouldn’t have made much difference to me if the redneck with the .22 rifle killed me instead of the bangers with whatever SMG sounding thing they emptied towards us.

  4. “machine gun crime is extraordinarily rare”

    Not really. Machine gun crime is fairly common as gun crimes go. Lawfully registered machine gun crime is extraordinarily rare.

  5. When I was Infantry school our instructors brought us to a range with metal targets on springs about 50 yards downrange (point blank range after the Marine KD course).

    First we fired a magazine at our respective targets on semi-auto. With a single-shot fired every 5 seconds or so, I knocked down the target with every shot.

    Then they had us fire off a clip as fast as we could with our M16’s on burst. My target might have moved twice. Despite all the noise, most of the other targets were getting hit far less often than the single shot round.

    The lesson worked – full-auto is for suppression, belt-fed weapons, and the movies. Well aimed shots win every time.

  6. How many States have out right bans on full auto, as opposed to those that don’t?

    Full registration, and background checks won’t work on handguns, look at NJ. It’s easier to purchase guns on the streets of Newark, then to jump through all those hoops.

  7. On the flip side I am convinced that most of the support of the assault weapons ban is based on the false assumption that it is a ban on full-auto weapons.

    Obama talked about “keeping AK-47s off the streets” in his DNCC address. I’m sure most who heard him imagined bad guys from the movies blasting away.

    How much support would the Brady Bunch have if people understood that Assault Rifles and Assault Weapons are not the same?

    Off on another tangent here is a video of a handgun and a SMG racing to shoot thru a 4×4.

  8. I’ll throw in that a lot of the gangsters like Bonnie & Clyde were quite open about the fact that they got their BARs and Thompsons & such by raiding police stations and National Guard armories; and they weren’t the only ones.

  9. Then and now, gun shops are unlikely to stock a pile of FA’s even if down-regulated, they aren’t likely to be big impulse sellers outside of the specialty community for the same reasons they weren’t common prior to ’86.

    Whether it’s ’33, ’85 or post-registry reopening ‘0whatever it will still make more sense for criminals to find an unattended FBI van or something and get a half-dozen at once than hit a bunch of gun shops.

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